9

This is mostly a memory question - I'm having a hard time remembering this and I can't read the book right now.

On the first book, a snake at the zoo winks at Harry. For the sake of the question, we'll assume that snakes can in fact wink.

I have a fuzzy memory here - I think that it winked before Harry had any kind of interaction with the snake (was this before or after Harry broke the glass?)

So, why did the snake wink at Harry? Given that they had not met ever before.

I suppose that the only reason it would wink at Harry would be because it knows Harry can communicate with it. But this would imply that snakes are capable of sensing such ability on wizards - is there (other) evidence that this is true?

  • 2
    Don't you ever just wink at people just for the fun of it when you're bored? :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 13 '13 at 18:12
  • 5
    @DVK: I've tried, but they think I'm a creep. – Voldemort Mar 13 '13 at 18:18
  • 1
    it'd help if you weren't a huge python in a cage, I guess... :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 13 '13 at 18:19
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    Snakes can neither blink nor wink, so I would guess that it was a fevered hallucination, just the first in a 7 book series in which Harry is committed to Hogwarts Penitentiary and undergoes a smattering of invasive tests under the direction of Dr Dumbledor. – JMD Mar 13 '13 at 18:29
14

The book doesn't seem to indicate any reason why the snake chose to wink at Harry, other than Harry presented a contrast to the a$$holish Dursley family who were annoying the snake and waking it up:

... Dudley quickly found the largest snake in the place. It could have wrapped its body twice around Uncle Vernon's car and crushed it into a trash can -- but at the moment it didn't look in the mood. In fact, it was fast asleep.
Dudley stood with his nose pressed against the glass, staring at the glistening brown coils.
"Make it move," he whined at his father. Uncle Vernon tapped on the glass, but the snake didn't budge.
"Do it again," Dudley ordered. Uncle Vernon rapped the glass smartly with his knuckles, but the snake just snoozed on.
"This is boring," Dudley moaned. He shuffled away.
Harry moved in front of the tank and looked intently at the snake. He wouldn't have been surprised if it had died of boredom itself -- no company except stupid people drumming their fingers on the glass trying to disturb it all day long. It was worse than having a cupboard as a bedroom, where the only visitor was Aunt Petunia hammering on the door to wake you up; at least he got to visit the rest of the house.
The snake suddenly opened its beady eyes. Slowly, very slowly, it raised its head until its eyes were on a level with Harry's.
It winked.
Harry stared. Then he looked quickly around to see if anyone was watching. They weren't. He looked back at the snake and winked, too. The snake jerked its head toward Uncle Vernon and Dudley, then raised its eyes to the ceiling. It gave Harry a look that said quite plainly:
"I get that all the time."

The last line is important - note that the snake did NOT try to talk to Harry first - therefore it did NOT choose to wink at Harry because it knew that Harry would understand him due being a Parselmouth.

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    Makes it kind of sad that Harry lost this ability when Voldemort's soul left his body. A pity, he'll never get to find out if that snake made it to South America. – Zibbobz Feb 2 '15 at 18:05
  • The last assumption precludes the possibility that the snake could tell that Harry would understand him. It might have detected Harry's magical abilities and even his Parseltongue. – user31178 Feb 2 '15 at 19:48
5

I don't have access to the actual quote, but in HBP young Tom Riddle tells Dumbledore that he can talk to snakes, saying something like "they find me and whisper things to me". I would assume this means that snakes can 'sense' a Parselmouth.

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    It might be that Riddle spoke with a few snakes (his own desire), and then those snakes told the other snakes about a boy who could speak with them, and thus the other snakes begun searching for Tom, instead of sensing Parselmouth. – Voldemort Mar 14 '13 at 15:25
1

One possibility is that something about the Parselmouth talent does more than just communicate with snakes, but also grants the snakes some level of cognizance such that they can communicate. The snakes communicated with certainly seem more sapient than the average snake. Either all snakes are this intelligent — and just don't have a method of conveying this to humans — or something about the magic makes them intelligent. ''Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality'' explores this possibility almost to excess.

If, indeed, the presence of a Parselmouth grants a level of intelligence to the snake, the snake was likely suddenly dealing with an increased intellect, emotions, and such and reacted to Harry accordingly. Said aspects may have disappeared shortly after Harry was not there to grant him that intelligence. I don't believe the books have elaborated, or plan to elaborate, on how exactly Parselmouth works.

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